Monthly Archives: January 2013

Around the Water Cooler: Steps to Protect Waterways

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

It’s cold and dreary around my area, but what better time to think about a warm beach vacation? Think about your favorite beach—warm clear water to swim in, pristine sand to lay on and great seafood to fill our bellies. But what if those didn’t exist?

Nutrient pollution pollution caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus can cause major “dead zones,” essentially making all those things we love about the beach nonexistent. The state of Florida has been working to protect its important commodities – beaches, water and seafood—and recently set limits on allowable nutrient levels.

EPA scientists and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are exploring using “numeric nutrient criteria” to protect Florida’s estuaries. For example, EPA research on seagrasses is being used to develop water clarity targets. EPA scientist Jim Hagy says, “the steady decline of aquatic life caused by too much nutrient pollution will give way to limits on pollution, eventually improving water quality.

Image Credit: Hans W. Paerl 2006

Nutrient pollution found in our water comes from a variety of sources including agriculture, aquaculture, septic tanks, urban wastewater, urban stormwater runoff, and industry. Nutrient pollution can even come from burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. These excess nutrients can enter water from the air, surface water, or groundwater. In other words, the problem is everywhere.

Of course, it’s not just what’s happening in Florida that affects Florida’s water quality. Anything upstream has impact on those waterways and the same for all waterways around the country. Such development of allowable limits on nutrient levels should provide information for other places around the country looking to protect their water, too. While it’s challenging work, this example shows that it’s possible to make an impact in keeping our waterways clean and safe.

For more information on our nutrient research, please visit: http://epa.gov/research/waterscience/water-nutrients.htm

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry loves the beach and seafood and clean water. (Who doesn’t?) She is a frequent contributor to Around the Water Cooler and works with the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team to communicate their work.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Eco-friendly Weekend Activities

Cross Central Park Promenade Tour – You will see many surprises: a hidden bench that tells time, miniature boats powered by the wind, a magnificent sculpture celebrating fresh water. These are just some of the sites on this east-to-west walk through the Park. Sunday, February 3, 2:30 – 3:45 p.m.

Family Art Project at Wave Hill: March Out The Mardi Gras! Join visiting native New Orleans artist and instructor Paul Deo to make a colorful parasol, hat, nature mask or funky bead necklace. Then join an imaginative indoor parade as we create the sights, colors and sounds of the Mardi Gras at the Ecology Building in Wave Hill. Sunday, February 3, 10:00 a.m. –1:00 p.m.

Fix Your Bike Workshop: Come learn how to fix bikes, do simple maintenance and tune-ups at the Time’s Up bike mechanic skill share. Sunday, February 3, 6:00 p.m.

NYC Audubon Winter EcoCruise: Step aboard the New York Water Taxi for a winter adventure in New York Harbor! Look for harbor seals on the rocky shores of Governors Island and the more remote Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. Learn about the surprisingly diverse winter birds of New York City, including ducks, geese, loons, and sandpipers – many of which migrate south from the Arctic Circle. Dress warmly and bring your binoculars because there will be plenty to see! Departs Pier 17, South Street Seaport. Sunday, February 3, 2:00 –4:00 p.m.

The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter – Ready for summer? Stop by the American Museum of Natural History this weekend to frolic with 500 butterfly specimens in a balmy 80 degree vivarium. Saturday-Sunday, February 2-3, 10:00 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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¿Cuán seguras son sus artesanías de madera?

Por Luz V. García, M.S., M.E.

Tradicionalmente en Puerto Rico se celebra el Día de Reyes el 6 de enero.  Según nuestra tradición, los Reyes, o los Tres Reyes Magos, se representan en esculturas de madera talladas por artesanos locales.
Otra diferencia en nuestras tradiciones es la manera en la cual se representan los reyes.  Las representaciones artísticas muestran a los reyes montados en caballos en lugar de camellos. Existe  variedad de imágenes iconográficas, donde los reyes  están montados a caballo siempre cabalgado hacia las izquierda como siguiendo a la estrella de Belén o se los presentan de pie llevando obsequios de oro, incienso y mirra en las manos.
Mientras algunos artesanos locales usan maderas locales, o bambú, metales y pinturas en su artesanía, existe el riesgo de que algunos artistas usen pintura a base de plomo en sus artesanías.

El tallado en madera es un arte que existe desde tiempos remotos. Fueron los griegos quienes primero  desarrollaron la técnica de las pinturas en madera para el siglo 6 antes de Cristo.

Uno de los problemas ambientales relacionados al tallado y pintura en madera proviene del uso de sustancias químicas y pigmentos sintéticos como el plomo blanco (carbonato de plomo)  or rojo  o amarillo ocre  con base de hierro. Sabemos que algunos colores provienen de substancias orgánicas como el pigmento color negro que proviene del  carbon.

Originalmente, los pigmentos orgánicos eran generados por componentes de plantas que se mezclaban con resina u otros aceites naturales como el aceite de linaza para disolver las partículas sólidas de los pigmentos. Es importante saber que los tintes naturales derivados de plantas, minerales e invertebrados eran pulverizados y disueltos en una sustancia líquida. En el pasado, los artesanos utilizaban se utilizaba  la yema de huevo  como el medio para trasferir los pigmentos  a la madera. Esta técnica se llama “témpera”. Era una  técnica duradera y los pigmentos eran naturales.  La cera de abejas también se usaba para fijar los pigmentos y tintes a la madera.

Alrededor del siglo 19, se remplazaron los tintes naturales por pigmentos minerales como el plomo y  cromo. Estos pigmentos hacían los colores más vivos y llamativos sobre la madera. Los artesanos ahora tienen la opción de usar materiales orgánicos o sintéticos. Pregúntele a su tallador de madera qué tipo de tintes y pintura usó en sus tallados para asegurarse de que nadie se exponga a metales tóxicos como el cromo o el plomo.

Aprenda más acerca de los riesgos a la salud del plomo visitando nuestra página http://www.epa.gov/espanol/saludhispana/plomo.html . Mientras es importante seguir las tradiciones, es más importante aún permanecer sano y saludable.

Acerca del autor: Ms. Luz V. García es una científica que tiene una maestría y pos-grados en ingeniería ambiental que ha trabajado en los programas de RCRA, Superfund, Pesticidas y Sustancias Tóxicas. Actualmente trabaja en la división de acatamiento y cumplimiento del derecho ambiental en la Región 2 de EPA en Nueva York.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How Safe Are Your Wood-Carving Arts and Crafts?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By LuzV Garcia, MS, ME

Traditionally, Puerto Rico celebrates Three Kings Day on January 6th. In Puerto Rico, the Three Kings or Three Wise Men are commonly depicted in wood carved sculptures by local artisans.

There is another difference in their portrayal in Puerto Rico. The artistic depictions of our Three Kings show them riding horses instead of camels. There are a variety of iconographic images where the Three Kings are riding to the left as if following the Bethlehem star. There are other images where the Kings are standing holding the gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.

While local artisans use local woods, bamboo, metals, and paints in their arts and crafts, there is a risk that some artists may still use lead-based paint in some of their crafts.

Wood painting is an art that has existed for centuries. In fact, Greeks first developed the technique of wood painting back in the Sixth century BC!

One of the environmental problems associated with wood carving is the use of chemicals or synthetic pigments such as white lead (basic lead carbonate), red and hydrated yellow ochre. We know that some colors such as black were generated from charcoal or carbon black pigment.

The original organic pigments were generated from plant components that were mixed with resin or natural oils such as Linseed oil to dissolve the solid particles in the pigment. It is important to know that the natural tints were derived from plants, minerals and invertebrates that were pulverized and dissolved into a liquid media. Originally, artisans used egg yolk as the media to transfer the pigments. The technique is called “Tempera.” It was a long lasting technique and the pigments were all natural ingredients. Beeswax was also used to seal the pigment to the wood.

Around the 19th Century, natural dyes were replaced with mineral pigments made of lead and chromium. These pigments enhanced the natural color of wood. Artisans now have the option of using organic or synthetic materials. Ask your wood artisan what type of paint he uses when making these wood carvings to ensure that no one is exposed to toxic metals like chromium or lead.

To learn more about the health risks of lead, visit.  While it’s important to keep traditions, it’s even more important to stay safe and healthy.

About the author:  Ms. Luz V. García M.E. is a physical scientist at EPA’s Division of Enforcement of Compliance Assistance. She is a four-time recipient of the EPA bronze medal, most recently in 2011 for the discovery of illegal pesticides entry at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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In Philly, Plain Rain Barrels are SO Last Season

By Nancy Grundahl

If you were Michelangelo, what would your rain barrel look like? It certainly wouldn’t be plain. No, it would convey beauty, reflect creativity, stand out from the crowd, cause walkersby to catch their breath in amazement.

One of the designs (“Fish Flow”) that you can vote for in the Philadelphia Water Department's Rain Barrel Art Contest

One of the designs (“Fish Flow”) that you can vote for in the Philadelphia Water Department's Rain Barrel Art Contest

To raise awareness of the benefits of rain barrels, the City of Philadelphia is holding a rain barrel art contest, but instead of Michelangelo, the artists are local students. Students between the ages of 11 and 21 from the Laura W. Waring School and YESPHilly worked with artists from the Mural Arts Program and educators from Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center and the Philadelphia Water Department to create beautiful original artwork for decorating rain barrels. How will it work? The designs will be printed on shrink wrap that will then be wrapped around rain barrels distributed by the Water Department.

The contest has been narrowed down to 8 finalists and they’d like you to vote for your fav. The contest ends on February 13, so hurry!

Rain barrels are good ideas no matter where you live.  They help capture rain water that can be reused around the home. And they help prevent that water from rushing from your downspouts and into storm sewers, picking up pollution that winds up in your favorite streams and rivers.

Feel creative?  Tell us your ideas for beautifying rain barrels at your home!

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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After Tragedy, Joplin, MO Rebuilds with ENERGY STAR Certified Homes

By: Ramona Schwartz

In May 2011, a deadly tornado ripped through the community of Joplin, Missouri, tragically killing 161 people and destroying a third of the city. Thousands of structures were destroyed or damaged, including many homes. Over a year later, the community is still rebuilding. But the people of Joplin have the true American spirit and are determined to rebuild and to rebuild better.

This rebuilding effort includes a project called Building Joplin. Building Joplin is an initiative by natural gas distributor Missouri Gas Energy. Under this initiative, we are working with local home builders, contractors, and major manufacturers to rebuild Joplin’s homes to be ENERGY STAR certified. ENERGY STAR certified homes are more efficient than most other homes, saving owners money on their utility bills, which is something residents of Joplin can really benefit from.

We are committed to training builders and sub-contractors on the best practices contained within ENERGY STAR’s requirements with the goal of rebuilding a more energy efficient and sustainable community. Our first home is under construction and will be completed in early April 2013. We believe that the Building Joplin project will grow public awareness about the importance of energy efficiency in Joplin and beyond.

One of my favorite movie quotes is, “If you build it, they will come.” This quote embodies the spirit behind the Building Joplin project. We believe that once the community sees and lives in ENERGY STAR certified homes, they will understand the efficiency, comfort and durability benefits of these homes, and they’ll want all of Joplin’s homes to be ENERGY STAR homes. For more information on ENERGY STAR certified homes, click here.

About the Author: Ramona Schwartz is a contractor working in support of Missouri Gas Energy’s Building Joplin project. She is very passionate about helping people in need and saving energy.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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La protección de nuestros niños viene primero

Por Lina Younes

¡Odio las plagas! Detesto las ratas y ratones portadores de enfermedades con una pasión visceral.
Hace unos años, participé en la filmación de una entrevista de televisión en español en compañía de un experto en hogares saludables. Juntos, fuimos por todas las habitaciones de la casa y un centro de cuido identificando los potenciales riesgos ambientales, y sobre todo, cómo asegurarnos de mantener el entorno libre de plagas.
La experiencia fue muy informativa para mí. Personalmente, me sorprendió conocer más acerca del comportamiento de los roedores.  ¿Sabía que los ratones y ratas pequeñas pueden pasar por pequeños huecos de una pulgada de diámetro e invadir su hogar, haciendo nido en los rincones, entre paredes, y alimentándose de las migas que encuentren en su camino? ¡Qué asco!
Así mismo, los niños pequeños también tienen sus propias características de comportamiento.  Ellos pasan gran parte de su tiempo en el piso, gateando y jugando. Su curiosidad innata los lleva a agarrar pequeños artículos que pueden encontrar en su camino y frecuentemente se los llevan a la boca, incluyendo los pequeños gránulos que los ratones pueden encontrar al descubierto en el suelo. En Estados Unidos, más de 10,000 niños se exponen a los gránulos de venenos de ratas y se los llevan a la boca. Por eso la EPA ha estado trabajando con los fabricantes de pesticidas para modificar los venenos de ratas y ratones que están a la venta para los consumidores a fin de que estos venenos solo se vendan en trampas especiales donde el cebo está encerrado, un diseño que protege a los niños curiosos del veneno.  Estas ratoneras con el cebo encerrado protegen a las mascotas también.
Además, EPA está prohibiendo los cuatro venenos más tóxicos en productos para el consumidor para proteger la vida silvestre. Los venenos de ratas y ratones que hay en su hogar pueden hacer daño a la vida silvestre porque los roedores envenenados que salen de su hogar pueden envenenar a los halcones y zorras que ingieren los roedores.
Entonces, qué puede hacer para proteger a sus hijos de envenenamientos accidentales en el hogar?
1.    Lea la etiqueta primero! Si no sigue las instrucciones cuidadosamente, podría poner a su familia en riesgo.
2.    Cree barreras para prevenir que los roedores entren a su casa al cerrar grietas, usar una malla de metal alrededor de la tubería, para que los visitantes indeseables no busquen refugio en su hogar y así tendrá que usar menos veneno.
¿Tiene algunos consejos de seguridad que quisiera compartir con nosotros?  Siempre nos gusta recibir sus comentarios y escucha su sentir.

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como portavoz hispana de la Agencia, así como enlace de asuntos multilingües de EPA. Además, ha laborado como la escritora y editora de los blogs en español de EPA durante los pasados cuatro años. Antes de unirse a la Agencia, dirigió la oficina en Washington, DC de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales a lo largo de su carrera profesional en la Capital Federal.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting Children Comes First

By Lina Younes

I hate pests! I loathe disease-carrying rodents with a passion.

Several years ago, I participated in the filming of a TV interview in Spanish with an expert in healthy homes. Together, we went room by room through a home and day care to identify potential environmental hazards and, above all, to learn how to keep areas pest free.

I found the experience very informative. Personally, I was struck by the behavior of rodents. Did you know that mice and small rats can fit through holes about the size of a quarter and can squeeze their way into your home and take up residence, nesting in corners and feeding on food crumbs? Yuck!

Likewise, small children have their own behavioral characteristics. They spend a lot of the time on the floor, crawling or playing. Their innate curiosity leads them to grab small articles they find along their way and often put them into their mouths, including mouse pellets they may find in open trays on the floor. More than 10,000 kids each year in the U.S. are exposed to mouse and rat pellets, often by putting them in their mouths. That is why EPA has been working with pesticide manufacturers to change consumer mouse and rat poisons to be sold in enclosed bait stations, to protect curious kids from the poison. The enclosed bait stations are also protective of household pets.

In addition, EPA is banning four of the most toxic poisons from consumer products, to protect wildlife. Mouse and rat poisons that you use inside your home can harm wildlife because poisoned rodents that venture outside can poison wildlife like hawks and foxes that ingest rodents as prey.

So, what can you do to keep your children safe from accidental poisonings in the home?

  1. Read the label first! By not following the instructions carefully, you can actually put your family at risk.
  2. Create barriers to prevent rodents from entering the home by closing cracks, using wire mesh along pipes, so that these unwanted visitors will not seek shelter in your home and you will need to use less poison.

Do you have any safety tips that you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Judas Fish

By Jeffery Robichaud

Invasive Species are a big problem in the United States and throughout much of the world.  Here in the Midwest, we have our fair share including the zebra mussel, the bush honeysuckle, and the autumn olive.  However none gets more attention than our pal the Asian Carp, perhaps because of their flying feats. Several years ago, I wrote for Greenversations about these problematic Pisces.

They continue to be a nagging invasive in our rivers, as well as in those of our sister Region (5) to the east.   Staff routinely spot them when we are out on the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers conducting sampling activities (check out the video below).  It almost seems comical, but we have had to amend our Health and Safety plans to add the threat of fish strikes as a potential hazard. Here are our folks on a slooooooowww day.

Our scientists have had lots of discussions on how one might safely and effectively reduce their populations, but apparently scientists in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, have come up with a novel solution: introduction of a Judas Fish.  From an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which describes the work of Peter Sorensen, director of the new Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota:

They are called “Judas” animals because, as the biblical reference implies, they betray.  Sorensen said the lessons learned elsewhere using “Judas” animals to locate and kill unwanted species could be used here to fight Asian Carp.

Radio-collared Judas pigs, sheep and goats have been released into the wild, then tracked until they lead officials to difficult-to-find herds of the same unwanted species.

This week, he will use Judas fish implanted with tracking devices to locate the common carp in Staring Lake in Eden Prairie. Though carp are dispersed in lakes during the summer, they congregate in the winter, and the Judas fish reveal to researchers exactly where they are.

A commercial fisherman then will net the mass of unwanted carp, estimated at about 26,000 fish, which root up vegetation, causing lakes to go turbid. Water quality and fish habitat usually improve after carp are removed.

Sorensen started using the method in 2008 as part of his carp research.

“It’s been very successful,” he said. “Carp are really social animals – one will always lead you to another.”

Sorensen said officials could apply the same method to seek out and destroy Asian carp.

I’m not sure how well this will work in our Big Rivers where we see large populations, but if Carp are indeed a schooling fish this might be one of the most efficient approaches to controlling the species.  I checked online and could not find any efforts underway to map populations on Region 7 Big Rivers, an activity which might help in maximizing the efficiency of Judas Fish introduction.  If you have seen any hot spots, on the Missouri River, let us know with a comment below.  Perhaps if enough interest is expressed, we can start a twitter hash tag campaign to collect lat/longs of Carp hotspots on the river, eventually building a crowd-sourced map.  I smell another blog post…or maybe it is just the fish.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division. Jeff has never incurred the wrath of a flying fish. Perhaps his aversion to meals of aquatic animals is sensed by these cantakerous critters who thus leave him alone

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spooner Lake

By: Molly

We did and heard lots of things at Spooner Lake.  First we went on a nature walk, and we stopped for one minute to listen to some birds. Then we went on a scavenger hunt to find things in nature. Next we had a snack.

After that, we tested the lake water. We tested the temperature of the lake and it was 42 degrees F. We also tested pH level and the dissolved oxygen. The dissolved oxygen and the pH level were both an 8. That means the water is fresh and healthy.

Then, we went bird watching and my friend Denali got stung by a wasp. She had to go to the ER. We watched some coots on the lake. Coots are a type of bird.

Lastly, we ate lunch and learned about artifacts. We learned that the Washoe Indians would live in Lake Tahoe in the summer and go to a different part of Nevada in the winter.  One of their camping spots was at Spooner Lake. They have proof of it because the Washoe Indians made grinding holes in the rocks.

After that we went back to school. All in all it was a great day.

Molly is a second grader who lives in Incline Village with her parents, her brother Liam and her beloved lab Luther. Molly enjoys skiing, biking, ballet, soccer, and playing with her friends and family.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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